Beat the grind by learning to work smarter instead of harder and longer
We're all just so "busy" these days. "Slammed" in fact. "Buried," writes blogger Meredith Fineman. "There seems to be a constant exchange, even a one-upping, of just how much we have on our plates when we communicate about our work."
Author Scott Berkun would agree. Berkun had busy bosses and busy parents, and assumed they had very important things to do.
"It seemed an easy way to see who mattered and who didn't. The busy must matter more, and the lazy mattered less."
Berkun thinks "the cult of busy" is a status game that explains the behaviour of many people at work.
"By appearing busy, people bother them less, and simultaneously believe they're doing well at their job. It's quite a trick."
While "busy" can describe a healthy level of industry, the kind of catch-cries Fineman and Berkun talk about create smokescreens that can hide a multitude of individual and organisational issues - fear of losing a job, lack of direction or engagement, lack of time management skills, burnout, boredom or insecurity. Then there's the wider issues of organisational leadership, work conditions, availability of resources, health and wellness policies and so on.
Fineman suggests individuals could work smarter and brag about their time management skills instead.
"Just because you clocked 15 hours at your office, with likely dry eyeballs and a complete lack of focus, doesn't mean you've accomplished things in a smart way. If you're putting in 15 straight hours at your desk, without breaks, how good is your output? How much time are you wasting?"
Marilyn Head, senior policy analyst at the NZ Nurses Organisation, says some forms of "busy" verge on overwork and unsafe practices. The "lean, mean thinking" of the 1980s has bitten deep with many still trying to perform at peak levels all the time.
"Under the lean and mean regimes people are always operating at breaking point so it takes the tiniest thing to tip them over. That's what's happening now - people are absolutely overworked. It's like we are expecting people to run the Olympics every day."
Hospitals are good examples.
"In winter there's this nightmare if people get sick - the nurses, doctors and technicians work around the clock. There may be 4 per cent more nurses but patient numbers have quadrupled. Nurses don't say how busy they are - what you hear them say is how worried they are about delivering the highest quality care."
And she thinks the idea of working smart hardly applies when staff are doing personal cares.
"What do healthcare assistants do to work smarter? Do they only brush the top teeth? What does a bus driver do to work smart? Does he drive faster?"
Head thinks the issue is with organisations, their leadership and the allocation of funds. In health, funding is usually targeted at curing sickness instead of preventing it, and a focus on cost-cutting (outputs) can have lethal outcomes for patients.
In policy analysis Head says telling someone they need to get a report or analysis out within a timeframe that does not allow enough time for consultation and fair analysis results in superficial policy.
"It's about doing due diligence. Long-term policies need a lot of time to develop. A lot of the time they are looking for quick, cheap solutions so it's not surprising if they come out with something superficial."
She sees people working incredibly long hours without taking time in lieu or decent holiday breaks. People who don't take annual leave tend to take more sick leave because they get run down.
"When people have time with their families it's a burden because they are so tired."
And often it is the covert organisational culture that approves employees who work through their breaks and burn the midnight oil at the office.
"A good boss will say it's fair to take the time off. I want to work hard and in a situation that's a good deal for both of us but I don't expect to be exploited," Head says.
There is plenty of advice on how to work smarter, not harder - taking breaks and naps, time out in nature, cutting unproductive meetings, finding the best time to check emails and last but not least, having fun.